Cambodian Prime Minister’s political values and diplomatic moves enables the country to stand strong should any international pressure be applied

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Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly president Heng Samrin greet thousands of supporters at Olympic Stadium. KT/Khem Sovannara

From War to wealth

Cambodia was known before as the Killing Fields and experienced civil conflict and war for many decades but this is not the case anymore. Today, Cambodia’s image has changed from its past dark history to a now prosperous nation with a level playing field on all fronts. Cambodia has reached this level not as a result of the hands of God, but due to the remarkable and pioneering efforts of Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen of the Royal Government of Cambodia. Samdech Techo Prime Minister Hun Sen has sacrificed himself since day one of the Cambodian conflicts in the 1970s in order to rescue the Cambodian nation and its peoples from bloody hands of Pol Pot and his efforts resulted in the ousting of the Khmer Rouge from power in January 1979.

Many foreigners need to be aware that after the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Cambodia faced many difficulties throughout the 1980s. On one hand, the country tried to prevent the return of the Khmer Rouge to power and on the other hand, the Cambodian people were rebuilding their nation from scratch,

The win-win policy championed by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1998 put an end to the political and military organization of the Khmer Rouge, which was followed by mass defections of the Khmer Rouge rebels who then joined the Royal Government led by Mr. Hun Sen. This win-win policy finally brought about real national reconciliation, followed by peace, justice, and development.

Today, the average GDP per Cambodian citizen is more than $1,560 and this is expected to rise to over $2,000 by 2023.

On 29th March 2019 at the 18th public-private sector forum, the Prime Minister said that Cambodia had set the target to become a middle income country by 2030 and to become a high income country by 2050. “We need to create jobs and increase income sustainability for the long haul”.

Cambodia is now recognized as the 6th Tiger in Asia. The Kingdom is very much on the investment radar of the region. Over the period from 2014 to 2018, Cambodia approved 959 investment projects worth $23 billion USD and created more than 1 million jobs. In the last two months of 2019 Cambodia approved another 73 projects worth $2.2 billion USD. In comparison; within the same period in 2018, the government approved 39 projects worth $327 million USD.

Cambodia has now achieved an economic growth rate of 7.7 per cent per annum.

Cambodia has approved and introduced industrial policies which have enabled the country to attract more investments, such as automobile assembly plants, electricity plants, cement factories, soft drinks production, solar power installations, medical equipment, along with the development of trading center facilities, and food processing plants. Cambodia has actively sought to develop investment projects in the provinces in order to reduce the income gap between people living in rural Cambodia and people in urban areas such as Phnom Penh.

The construction sector increased by 23 percent in 2018 reaching a value of more than $5.5 billion USD. The number of institutions in the banking sector has increased from 86 to 137.

In 2018 tourist arrivals increased 38 per cent on 2017 with 6.2 million tourists visiting the Kingdom.

Cambodia’s leader has said that the country needs to diversify and significantly expand Cambodian markets overseas. “We have been exporting to other markets apart from EU and USA. I have asked the commerce minister to negotiate with Canada, the UK, China, Japan, and South Korea for free trade agreements from which we can then expand our markets”.

Cambodia has even looked to expand its export markets to Africa. “We should consider joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade group along with Cambodia’s ongoing and important ASEAN membership. During the summit with South Korean President I talked about free trade and investment,” said the Premier.

“For the UK, amid the BREXIT issues, Cambodia continues to maintain the status quo of a trading partnership with Cambodia. UK Prime Minister Theresa May told me that the UK will continue this status quo with Cambodia. While the criticism continues many do not know what I have discussed with the UK and other leaders,” said Prime Minister Hun Sen as he recalled his past meeting with May.

“We need to attract investments from China, Japan, South Korea, given that the four countries have big industrial bases in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia,” said the Premier.

Global Diplomacy

It is important to note that although peace and development is well underway, Cambodians want to see due justice carried out on those who imposed the horrific and tragic consequences of the Khmer Rouge regime on the nation. This prompted Cambodia’s government to hold complex rounds of torturous negations with the United Nations starting in 1997 with the objective to bring the Khmer Rouge’s leaders to stand trial for the crimes they committed from April 17th, 1975 to January 6th, 1979 during which time more than 2 million Cambodian died from executions, enforced labor, hunger, starvation, and disease.

The five most senior Khmer Rouge leaders have been tried by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Cambodian Courts (ECCC) which was established in 2006, and funded by the U.N., Cambodia and other international donors. The Khmer Rouge trials involved national and international participation along with notable international diplomatic support to Cambodia for the hosting of the trials.

In late March of 2019, Deputy PM and Defense Minister Tea Banh, was in New York at the United Nations, and actively sought to join hands with the international community to protect and develop peace in the world. Should any country wish to impose sanctions against Cambodia; these sanctions will fail as Cambodia is now helping friends in other parts of the world and has become an active and contributing member of the international community.

The UN has praised Cambodia’s peace keeping forces for its work overseas with the United Nations. Cambodia, despite being a poor nation, is making a significant contribution to the UN international peacekeeping programs and to date has already dispatched more than 5,000 Cambodian peace-keeping troops to operate under the U.N. umbrella in Sudan, Central Africa, Lebanon, and other nations.

Cambodia joined the U.N. in 1955 and hosted the 37th World Heritage Session/ UNESCO in 2013 along with hosting the Asian Cultural Council early this year. Each of these events were attended by several hundred international guests from executive and legislative branches.

Cambodia joined ASEAN in 1999 and is an active member in terms of diplomacy and trade within the ten-country bloc of over 500 million people. This has given Cambodia a greater diplomatic voice and access to a large market, as well as continuing Cambodia’s contribution to peace and development in the region.

Cambodia has become a key coordinating nation for ASEAN and others in the region. This has assisted Cambodia to not only gain diplomatic support but has also assisted the growth of trade, investment, and tourism opportunities both bilaterally and multilaterally.

Cambodia regards the EU block of 28 countries as important friends and the current issue of trade preferences of the “Everything but Arms” (EBA) status should not be considered as an obstacle for Cambodia-EU relations given that many countries of EU continue to work bilaterally with Cambodia in many fields.

However, to offset the EBA, the government continues its reforms and this is not related to the EU’s strategy to remove the EBA from Cambodia as Cambodia clearly recognizes the need to reform for greater competitiveness.

The Prime Minister has stated that the government strongly believes that significant and in-depth reforms will help the country to obtain value added products and “will enable Cambodia to stand on its own without relying on trade preferences”.

In this regard; if some western governments are not satisfied with the Cambodian governments concerns and the authority used in implementing its laws and orders to safeguard peace and achievements, then that is the position of these western governments only.

However the Cambodian nation continues to stand strong on both the national and international diplomatic stages acknowledging that Prime Minister Hun Sen has already built strong ties with the United Nations and ASEAN along with the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation with countries near and far; from Asia to Europe, to the Arabic world, and to many other nations.

It is these valuable diplomatic initiatives implemented by the Prime Minister that has enabled Cambodia to achieve rapid and highly successful growth and development in recent years.

By Ek Tha, the Royal Cambodian Government’s Spokesman Unit (CGSU)

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